Free «A Critical Analysis on Locke's Second Treatise of Government» Essay Sample

A Critical Analysis on Locke's Second Treatise of Government


Political philosophy has been founded on theories by various intellectual thinkers. One of the theories that provided a substantial basis for the existence of the government is the Second Treatise of Government by John Locke which remains the central theme of every Western political philosophy. In other words, if one wants to justify the existence of the government, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government would be valid to support such an argument.

The major issue that a society and individuals face is whether the government should exist or not. Should individuals be left alone without such a large institution as a government? Should a government be powerful to the extent that it tramples individual’s freedom for the sake of the common good? No doubt that the individuals would favor the lesser authority of the government since they usually value freedom and personal identity. However, peace and order embody sacrifice, since too much freedom tends to breed chaos or anarchy within the society.

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Nonetheless, how should one approach the issue wherein freedom, peace, and order are equally balanced? This is the question that Locke and other political philosophers, such as Rousseau, have attempted to argue. There are two polarities in the above issue: one is favoring individual freedom and the other stands for state control. Locke seems to argue on the sovereignty of the people by promoting their natural rights. Rousseau has no quarrel with such an argument, and he even magnified that the notion that a social contract is necessary for the natural rights has to be protected.

Though it is commendable that Locke and Rousseau try to protect the rights and freedom of every individual, there should be a slight modification of their theories that would slant on balancing the democracy and the state power. The argument of the current paper is as follows: individual freedom and state control should be balanced to attain peace, order, and democracy.” If people are given too much of rights, they tend to abuse them. On the other hand, too much government would lead to dictatorship, which is no longer applicable in today’s generation.

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Locke’s Argument

In Locke’s political philosophy, particularly in the Second Treatise of the Government, he argued that the government should exist through the sovereignty of the people. The argument has become the foundation of the liberal-democratic state of the European societies (Lively and Reeve 2013). The premise of the theory is that a society consists of free and equal individuals. Everybody is born with natural rights, such as a right to life and property. Therefore, the law has to protect the rights and not to abuse them.

John Locke starts with the basic argument asserting that individuals possess certain freedom along with their personal identity. They have incorruptible traits, such as consciousness and intelligence, which help in making decisions. Consequently, the government should not interfere with the capacity of individuals to rationalize unless the latter commit any unlawful acts. With the ability to intellectually decide, individuals should be trusted of governing themselves along with the agreement that they would uphold the common good as well.

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Furthermore, Locke assumed that for human beings, personal identity is described as a person with intelligence and consciousness. He continued to argue that a person is different from an intelligent being but the two could co-exist in one body. For John Locke, intelligence is composed of a reason and consciousness, and that a person possesses the mentioned qualities. Locke’s notion of identity further explains that the person remains the same as far as the consciousness has reached it. It may imply that it is the same person as long as he or she remains aware of his or her identity. Rationality, in Locke’s view, resides in the consciousness of an intelligent person. Thus, the intelligent being and the person may no longer be the same if one is no longer aware of the other. In other words, the two can exist separately if consciousness no longer connects itself to the person. The above represents how Locke views every human being. He sees every person as having comprehensive and substantive nature that should not be abused and underestimated. Humans have both consciousness and cognitive abilities that would naturally protect from any danger that may confront them in the society. Therefore, the government should only intervene in cases when an individual can no longer react appropriately, such as in crimes, disasters, or any unfortunate events. Likewise, the government is merely a supporting institution through the laws enacted by rational and free individuals. The government should not operate over individual freedom and rights. For Locke, a social contract is neither absolutism nor authoritarianism but a contract of free and intelligent individuals.

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Rousseau’s Argument

Rousseau’s theory is quite similar to Locke’s, but with a little distinction. Rousseau’s perspective begins with the idea that a person possesses certain innate qualities such as virtue, freedom, nature, and happiness. He views an individual as someone coming from the savage environment who is characterized by innocence and savageness. He or she is controlled by necessity. Hence, the individual is still in pursuit of his or her basic desires, an unfinished project of the world around him. He or she is viewed as a work in progress as one would look at it.

Rousseau advises that the individual should be exposed to the harsh realities of life. Earlier in his life, an individual must already encountered the cold realities of nature. Overcoming such a reality would make him or her invulnerable to the harshness of nature. Nature is cruel in the Rousseau’s point of view. It is unemotional and seems to be undisturbed. Therefore, the individual must learn how to face problems that nature throws at him. Thereby, he or she would be able to do it through physical development.

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Rousseau contemplates that, as a part of the life experiences, an individual must acquire certain virtues that denote apparent signs of an educated man. A virtue for Rousseau is something done out of merit which requires effort and strength. He or she receives the latter by gaining experience. Temperance is a good example. The act of holding back and controlling oneself to anything that is evil represents a virtue. Therefore, it takes courage and strength to achieve such a feat.

An individual is naturally free. Nevertheless, he or she would sporadically operate under the circumstances that he or she cannot control. As advised by Rousseau, an individual should use the innate freedom to learn new skills and acquire virtues that are necessary to become a well-developed person. In addition, he considers the problem of authority and freedom. The question would arise as follows: should an individual be left alone to learn for himself? To Rousseau, if an individual strives to become independent, he or she needs to abruptly face the reality. Therefore, it is pointless for him or her to be surrounded by an artificial paradise in which desires can be fully satisfied. Hence, the individual should explore the world during his or her lifetime.

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The difference in Locke’s claim from that of Rousseau is their view of the individual. For Locke, individuals are innately good due to their rationality or intelligence, but for Rousseau, they are forced to be bad. Henceforth, Rousseau proposes a social contract where freedom and rights are not absolute. The government would exist to protect individual’s rights by surrendering particular rights that are harmful to the common good. For instance, the right to kill is surrendered by the government. Individuals are no longer free to kill as a part of the social contract.

Socialist Democracy

A reconstruction of Locke’s and Rousseau’s claims would be a socialist democracy that founded on Marxism. Consequently, socialist democracy is a political system that promotes the freedom of the people to make determining decisions about important matters of public policy. Therefore, there is an implicit notion that democracy is only applied in politics. The spheres of the political or public and the individual or private are then divided in democracy. Marxism seems to reject the said definition, but at a closer look, the peak of democracy is extended to the entire society.

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Moreover, Marxism should not be viewed more or less democratic than liberalism. In his line of thinking, Marx wanted to extend democracy as long as it is limited. However, its limitations would mean a higher form of society, as recognized by Marx. The ancient history of the pre-species would be attained through communism which is neither democratic nor undemocratic. Marxism has always advocated the concept of the bourgeois state power, and it can only be abolished by the use of force from the oppressed class. Marx’s most important assumption is that for the working class to create its state, it is crucial to eradicate the bourgeois state which cannot be inherited naturally. The latter makes democracy a vital mechanism since a bourgeois state could eventually be overthrown through a peaceful means (Kain 1993).

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Marx’s theory is geared toward equality, not on democracy which is apparent in Marx’s intention of abolishing social classes wherein everyone is equal, but not necessarily free. However, as Marx strongly advocates for equality, wherein the majority has the power to rule while the minority’s rights are suppressed, it would result to a dictatorship thus inequality. It stresses that what seems to be democratic would end up a dictatorship of the majority, even through violent means. According to Marx, the proletariat, as a majority, would win over the minority capitalist class. The working class would win the battle of democracy and would overthrow the kind of democracy that the bourgeoisie has established. Marxist theory, hence, advocates equality that would become a totalitarian system in the end through the dictatorship of the working class. Therefore, it would implicate a certain form of inequality where the victims are the people in the minority or the capitalist class.












In conclusion, Locke’s and Rousseau’s assumptions would fall under socialist democracy that is supported by Marxism. Obviously, Locke and Rousseau have indeed valued individual freedom over state power, but Marxism has clarified the roles of every social class that exists in every society. However, as mentioned above, authentic equality seems to be inappropriate to replace the bourgeois democracy. Equality among men that implies a suppression of a particular class and a ruling of another is not an authentic equality. A totalitarian regime should not emerge if the working class overthrew the capitalists. If the mentioned is true, then inequality would persist since a dictatorship of the majority would emerge. If one social class is imposing its authority to another class, it is a condition where inequality is prevalent. Locke, Rousseau, and Marx seemed to agree with the said statement.

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On the other hand, bourgeois democracy oppresses the working class since it is the rule of the elite where the true sense of the word democracy is not operational. It is a democratic rule wherein the elite manipulate the vital institutions to capture the consciousness of the majority of the elite’s class interests. It is a false sense of democracy as one would say. Therefore, it is a choice of two evils, if we would put it this way. The logical option is between a democracy ruled by the working class through dictatorship where inequality would persist or a democracy manipulated by the capitalists for their interests. However, the point of the current paper is that individual freedom and rights should be balanced with state control. This is neither total freedom nor dictatorship but socialist democracy where rights and welfare of the people are promoted and protected by the government. The government exists for the people.

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